Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Yecapixtla. The Church exterior

From the atrium we now approach the priory church. During the late 1530s, this great structure rose rapidly under the supervision of the prior Fray Jorge de Avila. Construction continued through the 1540s and 1550s and by 1580 the priory was finished. 
   Yecapixtla was a famous landmark even in colonial times. Tall flared buttresses, capped with castellated garitas (sentry boxes), anchor the gigantic west front of the church. 
the battlemented garita atop the facade
Martial merlons march across the crowning gable and parapets of the church, along the monastery front and atrium walls and, as noted, mark the corners of the posa chapels. 
posa chapel (N. Brooker)
Despite its massive scale and rugged profile, Yecapixtla boasts outstanding and refined stone working throughout.
The West Front
The facade features one of the most refined Plateresque style porches in Mexico. Its pure Renaissance outline is spiced with Gothic elements; narrow paired colonettes frame the grand arched doorway enclosing slender niches, now empty, supported on grutesco style floral reliefs.  
"grotesque" relief
Medallions of cherubs' heads entwine with rosettes, lilies and acanthus leaves on the door jambs and around the archway. Winged angels pose in the spandrels and high-spirited putti ride on fantastical dragons along the frieze. 
cherub riding a triton
Cameos of a friar and a bewigged Spanish hidalgo are embossed on the column pedestals and alternate with rosettes on the door jambs. 
Another empty niche in the attic above is flanked by the Augustinian insignia of the pierced heart with a tasseled galero hat on one side, and the bleeding Five Wounds of the Franciscan Order on the other. 
(N. Brooker)
Above the doorway an expressive stone crucifix is inset at the apex of the crowning pediment. The body of Christ with its foreshortened figure, enlarged extremities and stylized ribs is a 16th century sculpture no doubt carved by an indigenous mason rather than a Spanish craftsman. 
© Felipe Falcón
Above the porch, the rose window is among the most spectacular examples of its kind in Mexico. It seems almost to float above the porch, its sinuous flamboyant tracery rivaled in richness by the complex scrolls and ribbons of its layered, circular frame.
On the north side of the church, the cliff like, battlemented nave wall is pierced by Gothic style windows and another elegant entry.   
Like the west entry, this finely crafted Plateresque doorway is flanked by slender "cushioned" colonettes. Carved relief panels like those of the west porch adorn the jambs, while floral medallions alternate with Augustinian hearts around the archway.
   Medallions with portrait busts of a man and a woman occupy the spandrels—possibly Cortés and his wife? 
text © 2015 Richard D. Perry.  
color images by the author and courtesy of Niccolo Brooker and Felipe Falcón.
for details on other 16th century Mexican monasteries, consult our classic guide book

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